“Rarely do people question success in the same way they do failure”

Oh, Real Simple. Your cover stories on laundry, your strange editor’s letters about Sheryl Sandberg, and photo spreads featuring not-real-simple $400 linen pants have been forgiven. The March issue features a fabulous interview with Kat Cole, the 36-year-old president of Cinnabon (a billion dollar company). How did Cole rise so high so fast? Maybe it’s insights like this, the answer to the question of what’s something surprising she’s learned:

Rarely do people question success in the same way they do failure. That’s a mistake. When you fail, the lessons smack you in the face. But you might misdiagnose the things that drive success. I learned that from running restaurants. People would say, ‘That manager is so great. His restaurant’s up in sales 50 percent,’ when really he’s a bad manager and they’re just located on a street with a new strip mall. You can reward the wrong behaviors and duplicate the wrong things if you don’t dig deep behind success.”

I love this. There are a lot of smart, hard-working people out there. Sometimes they’re in situations where they shine, and they look even more brilliant. Then they wind up in situations that no one can solve (please see my Fast Company post on the new Marissa Mayer book — and the problem with the great man/woman theory of change in business). It is easy to misdiagnose success as being the result of how brilliant and awesome you are. But if you truly want to replicate success in different circumstances, then it might behoove you to consider additional possibilities as well.

I’ve been thinking about that as I figure out the publicity strategy for I Know How She Does It. My short ebook, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, was by far my swiftest-selling book. I think it’s readable and motivational, but I think 168 Hours is better written. It is not that I became a more brilliant and fabulous guru of time management in the interim. It’s that the later product has a much better, clickable title, had a more impulse purchase level price, and benefited from prominent excerpting in a publication with an audience that’s very engaged on social media. I don’t have much control over pricing, but I do on the other factors. That’s why the back-and-forth over titling was so important.

Have you ever misdiagnosed success?

In other news: Speaking of 168 Hours being better written, I came across this fun review of the book from Hello Best Life: “Has there ever been a book in your life that you were destined to read? … This book spoke to me. I wanted to hug it and lovingly stroke its pages. I had an audiobook version so this was difficult.

And while we’re on the topic of my books that I like better than What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, my novel, The Cortlandt Boys, could use some more reviews on Amazon. If you read it, would you please consider writing a short review? Two sentences is all that’s necessary. Thanks so much — I really appreciate the favor.

18 thoughts on ““Rarely do people question success in the same way they do failure”

  1. Yes – that was a SUCH a great interview, and I completely agree with her sentiments about failure.

    Also, oh how I love that you used the word behoove!

  2. I think this is true in so many areas of life. I see it in business all the time, but I also see it in parenting. People credit their parenting skills for things their kids do when really other factors like the kid’s personality probably play a bigger role.

    Cortlandt Boys is on my “to read” list- but I’m unexpectedly busy with work right now. This is a good thing, but it is eating into my evening reading time!

    1. @Melanie – good to hear you’re busy with work! Completely agree on the kid personality thing. If you’ve got a kid who likes to eat asparagus, or who sleeps at the perfect times with no struggles, that’s awesome, but it’s probably not because you’re a vastly better parent than anyone else. I’d put it at two-thirds personality, and one-third family habits and systems. It’s not that the systems don’t matter, but that’s not all that’s going on.

  3. Rachel Held Evans recently re-released her first book under a different name. I’m not privvy necessarily to how that’s going, but it was interesting to learn about through her blog.

    1. @Laura – that’s fascinating. I know when J.K. Rowling published one of her recent books under a different name it sold like 1000 copies before she was outed as the author, at which point there were extra zeroes. Yes, she is an utterly amazing story teller. On the other hand, there was something about Harry Potter that was just magic (naturally..).

      1. I think Laura meant that Rachel H-E re-released her book under a new title. Something designed to attract more readers I guess.

        1. @Linda M – ah. Yes, that’s often smart. I’ve read some insightful books with not great titles, and I wonder how it’s limited their impact.

    1. @The Frugal Girl – the fashion spreads continue to crack me up. I think every year they run a spread on “the new classics,” which you are supposed to be able to wear forever. Except the next year there’s a new set of new classics. The target market of affluent RS readers wants to update their (our?) wardrobe annually but doesn’t want to feel so crass that we’re just buying stuff for a year.

      1. In reality, there are some items which are indeed classics and can be worn for some time, but even basics do change some, especially for women.

        (Men’s basics seem to be a little more consistent.)

        Also, if you’re going to switch out your wardrobe each year, you probably don’t need a $400 pair of pants.

  4. This is venturing a bit off-topic, but all this talk of $400 linen pants you only wear for one season reminded me of my perpetual wardrobe dilemma: I don’t look good in black, and I get bored wearing the same color(s) all the time, because I like lots of different colors, so I spend more time than I’d like figuring out what to wear, as it seems almost impossible to put the theory of mix & match into practice in a colorful closet. Just wondering if anybody has any suggestions for how to spend less time getting dressed without getting more bored with what you wear?

    1. @Gwen – scarves? You could wear neutral bottoms, colorful tops, and some sort of interestingly patterned scarf to keep things interesting. I’m doing that or brightly colored cardigans right now. Then again, no one’s accused me of looking interesting.

  5. Good ideas both, as scarves and cardigans go on and off more easily than pullovers this time of year when wildly different indoor/outdoor temperatures require much layering. This also makes me realize color coordination would be easier with more neutral bottoms–thanks!

  6. I’ve never commented here before, though I am a loyal reader and Laura evangelist. But I had to say – I love Kat Cole so much. Thank you for mentioning her and her common sense wisdom. Keep up the great work, Laura, and that baby is cute as can be!

    1. @Alicia – thank you! And yes, there are many reasons to like Cinnabon, Kat Cole and delicious-ness among them.

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